Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ generated a huge amount of publicity and controversy. So far, the movie has drawn more than 50 million viewers and is on course to become one of the top moneymakers in cinema history. This is all the more amazing for a film restricted for younger viewers because of its violence and in which every line of dialog is spoken in Latin or Aramaic, two long-dead languages.
Mr. Gibson, who financed and directed the movie, put a great deal of effort into making the film. His storytelling genius comes through in many ways. The movie is a powerful and moving attempt to tell the story of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ.
Yet, for all his effort, Mel Gibson didn't get the story right in several significant ways.
It's not like there isn't an accurate script to work with. After all, the four Gospels that describe the events have been around for almost 2,000 years. He simply made the same mistake so many others do when they approach the subject of Jesus Christ—they let their own ideas get in the way.
An accurate depiction of Jesus?
Old ideas die hard, and one of the oldest is what Jesus Christ looked like. For centuries people have assumed that Jesus had long hair. After all, that's the way they've always seen Him portrayed in every painting, drawing or movie. That's the only Jesus they've ever seen. But are those depictions accurate?
The fact is, we don't know what Jesus looked like, because the first depictions of Him weren't created until several centuries after His ministry. Thus every image we've ever seen is based on nothing but the artists' imaginations.
While we don't know what Jesus did look like, we do know that He didn't look like the common depictions of Him with long hair. After all, this same Jesus inspired the apostle Paul to write this criticism of long hair on men in 1 Corinthians 11:14: "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?"
After his miraculous conversion, Paul apparently was personally taught by Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). He also certainly knew some of Jesus' family members and many followers who had spent time with Him during His ministry. It's inconceivable that Paul would have written this statement if Jesus Himself had long hair. The common portrayal of Jesus Christ simply isn't accurate biblically or historically.
Adding to the story
Those familiar with the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John may have heard about or seen several scenes in the movie they couldn't recall reading about in the Gospels.
This is because Mr. Gibson incorporated elements from nonbiblical sources, including The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a book containing the supposedly divine visions of a mystic nun who lived 200 years ago. A few other scenes and events appear to have come from Mel Gibson's imagination or traditional Catholic ideas that aren't found in the Bible.
While much of the film follows the biblical accounts and gives a remarkable feel for the setting and emotional impact of these events, it's regrettable that the human tendency to add to or think the story can be improved on gets in the way. In both the Old and New Testaments, God makes it clear that He takes a dim view of adding to or taking away from His Word (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Sadly, people began changing the real story of Jesus Christ within only a few years of His death and resurrection. By the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul noted that some were already preaching "another Jesus whom we have not preached" and "a different gospel" (2 Corinthians 11:4).
Thus we shouldn't be surprised that many people—and even many churches—have misconceptions about Jesus, His life and His teachings. Many of the ideas Paul warned about took root in the first century and have continued right down to our day, when we find a "Christian" religion that bears only a superficial resemblance to the one Jesus founded.
Only when we get our own human ideas and traditions out of the way can we get the story right and begin to understand the real Jesus of the Bible.
Central facts left unexplained
Since the film covered the last 12 hours of Christ's life, of necessity it passed over the bulk of His life and teachings. While understandable given the time constraints of the movie, this is regrettable—for in focusing on Jesus' sacrifice without explaining who He was and why He voluntarily submitted to such a cruel fate, we are essentially left with only one act of a multipart play.
Who was Jesus? In His questioning by the Jewish religious authorities, they demanded to know whether He was the Messiah and Son of God. When He affirmed that He was, they flew into a rage and demanded that He be put to death for blasphemy (Matthew 26:63-66).
The reality of Jesus' identity, though, goes even beyond that to something that even most of His followers today don't understand. Surprising as it may sound, many scriptures tell us that He was the One the Israelites knew as God in the Old Testament!
For example, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, explains that the Israelites wandering in the wilderness "drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (emphasis added throughout).
He also writes in Colossians 1:16 that "by Him [Jesus Christ] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible ... All things were created through Him and for Him." He explains in Ephesians 3:9 that God the Father "created all things through Jesus Christ."
The apostle John is even more explicit: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning [before the creation of the universe] with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made" (John 1:1-3). John adds in verse 14 that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ..."
John tells us that this Being, who was God and also had been with God (that is, with the Father, the other member of the divine family consisting of both Father and Son), the One through whom the entire universe was made, became a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human being. This is the startling true identity of Jesus Christ that few really grasp!
The point of the passion
Before The Passion opened, Mr. Gibson was reportedly told by Hollywood executives that his film was a career-killing move and that he would never work in the movie industry again. As if to emphasize the point, no major movie distributor wanted to touch the film for fear that it would be a box-office disaster.
Many movie critics savaged it. The New Republic ridiculed it, calling it "a sacred snuff film." A New York Times review scorned it as "an unnerving and painful spectacle." The Boston Globe called it "an obscene movie ... a blasphemous insult to the memory of Jesus Christ."
The New York Daily News condemned it as "a brutal, nasty film" and "a compendium of tortures" characterized by "grotesque, savage" violence. The reviewer asked whether its director, Mel Gibson, is truly devout or simply insane.
I could cite many other similar examples, but I think you get the point.
The real problem with so many of these critics is that they didn't get the point. One has to wonder if they only saw the movie without having ever opened the Book.
By focusing on the film's violence, they dismiss the movie's powerful and uncomfortable message that sin—thumbing our noses at God in how we think, act and live—carries a devastatingly high price tag.
Jesus' sufferings more violent than the movie
The Passion of the Christ is indeed a graphic movie. But the fact is that, if anything, the violence is understated. Mel Gibson was asked in an interview why he didn't tone down the violence. "I did tone it down!" was his response.
And Mr. Gibson is right. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. The pain was so intense that the Romans had to invent a new word to describe it—excruciating, meaning literally "from the cross."
No other film has presented such an unflinching, unsanitized version of Jesus Christ's suffering. For those used to seeing pictures of a crucified Jesus with a few scratches here and there and a prick in His side, this film is a shock to the senses, an in-your-face shout that demands one's attention—as it should.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all verify that the death of Jesus Christ was a brutal, degrading demonstration of evil and cruelty. By design the Romans planned that crucifixions were public spectacles, reserved for those criminals whom they wanted to make a public example by inflicting the most painful, humiliating and torturous death they could devise. The Romans did their gruesome work well.
The true horror of what Christ endured is revealed in prophecies of His suffering and death written centuries before these events unfolded. One indication of the extent of this brutality is found in a verse cited in the New Testament, Isaiah 53:5: "And by His stripes we are healed." For "stripes," the New King James Version margin has "blows that cut in."
The people of Jesus' day could envision such cutting blows much more readily than we can today without such depictions as that in The Passion . Another indication of the violence Jesus suffered is found in Isaiah 50:6: "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting" (New International Version).
Another prophecy in Isaiah 52:14 is even more graphic: "His form, disfigured, lost all human likeness; his appearance [was] so changed he no longer looked like a man" (Revised English Bible). Do you grasp what this prophecy of Jesus' suffering is telling us? It says that He was so badly beaten, so bloodied and maimed, that He was virtually unrecognizable as a human being.
Another sobering prophecy of His suffering and crucifixion is found in Psalm 22:14-17: "... All my bones are out of joint. My heart ... has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death ... they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me" (New International Version).
This prophecy describes the Messiah's body wracked in pain from having His bones pulled out of joint, the extreme thirst resulting from massive blood loss, the agony of having iron nails pounded through His hands and feet and the awful shock of seeing His own bones exposed where the scourging ripped away His flesh.
Sadly, the part of the movie that's perhaps been most criticized is the part that is likely its most accurate (though at the same time understated). Sin is ugly, brutal and hideously painful, and Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price for the sins you and I have committed.
Why did He do it?
Paul tells us that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). By sinning—breaking God's law as summarized in the Ten Commandments (1 John 3:4)—we have all earned that death penalty. None of us is exempt (Romans 3:23).
Thus when we die, all that any of us deserve is eternal oblivion, the nothingness of death forever (heaven and hell is another matter entirely—to learn more about this request our free booklet Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? ).
However, Jesus Christ came to spare us from that fate (John 3:16-17). It required the death not just of a righteous human being, but the dying of the very Creator of every man, woman and child who has ever lived to pay the penalty for the sins of everyone. It took the death of God in the flesh (John 1:14)—the death of the One who made us. This is the awesome and little-understood magnitude of Christ's sacrifice.
Why can't people get the story of Jesus Christ right? The story is there waiting for us. This article has only scratched the surface of the story of the God who gave His life for you.
These truths have been preserved for us in the Bible for centuries, lying there like gold nuggets waiting to be discovered. Isn't it about time you made the effort to get the story right? GN